Xbox Game Pass contains over 200 games and yet I never feel lost. The service has several categories for different genres and indies, which help me find exactly what I’m looking for. The service also features great marketing to communicate new stuff and things that are already available. Xbox’s Sarah Bond spoke about Xbox Game Pass on Xcast, Kinda Funny’s dedicated Xbox show, and talked about how it’s helping gamers and publishers. It’s one of the best parts of the service. It’s nice having access to so many games, but the opportunity to explore games I otherwise might not know about is worth the price of admission alone. This isn’t necessarily new for Microsoft either; the company pushed discoverability, curation, creativity, and smaller titles back on the Xbox 360’s Xbox Live Arcade service.
The Xbox 360’s Xbox Live Arcade launched on Nov. 22, 2005. It was technically a relaunch of the program since it existed in a smaller and more limited form on Microsoft’s first Xbox console. That iteration of Xbox Live Arcade mostly featured older titles, like Gauntlet and Ms. Pac Man, but there were a few newer titles among the 27 games, like Bejeweled and Zuma. The Xbox 360 iteration of the service had a much bigger focus on newer and unique titles, while also including older games as well.
The Xbox 360’s hard drive came bundled with Hexic HD, which gave users a taste of what was possible with smaller experiences. Microsoft’s push to create another lane in the overall conversation was brilliant. Hexic HD and Castle Crashers weren’t Halo 3 in scope or size, but they also didn’t need to be. Gamers already had experiences like Halo 3 and Gears of War. AAA games were doing just fine. Consumers could enjoy more than one kind of game. Smaller games cost less than the bigger AAA titles as well; Microsoft had a $20 price maximum for XBLA titles, so people felt safer trying out something different. They were making it easier to find these different and often smaller titles, while also showing gamers the smaller price often came with unique gameplay and without any concessions in quality.
There was no reason people couldn’t enjoy Grand Theft Auto IV and Castle Crashers. The prices played nicely together, and having something different to play next to a larger game paired very nicely. Microsoft’s push for new, different, and lower-priced games shook up the industry, showing both publishers and consumers that games could be anything and everything. The ideas of developers were the only limit in terms of what was possible. If you were making it, then they could sell it to people that would play it.
Microsoft’s XBLA Summer of Arcade promotion went even further to tell people about XBLA games. They featured and highlighted new and different experiences, while also providing a place for new iterations and remakes to shine. Super Meat Boy, Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, ‘Splosion Man, TMNT: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled (RIP), Shadow Complex, Braid, Fez, Marvel vs Capcom 2, Spelunky, and Limbo are just a few of the countless imaginative and wondrous titles that were able to succeed and shine in the XBLA Summer of Arcade spotlight. Microsoft didn’t just sell these titles. They helped the publishers find the audience while also helping the audience find games they didn’t know they’d love.
They further pushed participation in purchasing Summer of Arcade titles with prize raffles and giveaways. It forever changed gaming and showed everyone that video games didn’t need to push technological boundaries and the limits of checkbooks for large studios. They could also be games that tested the possibilities of creativity. Xbox Live Arcade was retired with the Xbox One, but it wasn’t because Microsoft gave up on games outside the AAA and AA space. It was because they didn’t think they needed to be in different sections of the store. They had proven they could bring the audience to the titles without needing to put them in their own store section. They knew they could put them next to other games because they were just as important and deserving of the digital shelf space.
The Xbox One’s launch was, uh, definitely a thing that happened. I’m sure we all wish we could forget 2014-2016 Xbox, including Microsoft, but Xbox started moving in the right direction thanks to loud (but correct) negative reception to “always-online” requirements, forced Kinect integration, and other nonsense Xbox pushed with former employees Don Mattrick and Marc Whitten steering the ship. The era of Phil Spencer has brought Microsoft back into being a positive influence on the industry, and backward compatibility and Xbox Game Pass have been at the front of this pro-consumer storm.
Xbox Game Pass has continued what Xbox Live Arcade started. The service launched June 1, 2017 and began with the idea of bringing a catalog to gamers who subscribed to it. Xbox Game Pass is a growing and shifting library of games selected by Microsoft. The service started small and mostly featured indie titles and Microsoft-published titles, but over the years it’s grown into a place publishers happily put their games on. AAA titles have even launched on Xbox Game Pass. Outriders and PlayStation-developed MLB The Show 21 both launched as something players could purchase on Xbox and other platforms or simply play on Xbox Game Pass. Square Enix’s Outriders has enjoyed a considerable amount of time at the top of Xbox’s best-selling games in the storefront too. Xbox Game Pass is good for sales because people are happy to buy things they love, but they don’t always know what to try or take a chance on. Xbox Game Pass has also been a success story for smaller indie titles, giving them a spot on the stage for consumers to see in an otherwise crowded flood of good games. Xbox Game Pass is good for gaming, just like Xbox Live Arcade was back in the days of the 360.
It’s hard to imagine a version of myself that didn’t discover Super Meat Boy, Spelunky, Fez, or Castle Crashers. They’re some of my favorite games. I don’t think I would have known about them if it weren’t for Xbox pointing them out to me. Indie games are some of my absolute favorite titles today and have been for years. Guitar Hero, Halo, X-Men Legends, Gears of War, Fable, Resident Evil, and Pokemon occupied most of my video game time when the Xbox 360 launched. They’re all great games, but expanding my awareness of everything around me showed me so many different kinds of games I also ended up loving. I didn’t know about games outside of AAA experiences before XBLA. I’m grateful Microsoft is in the industry and has been shifting game discovery, development, and the overall experience in a positive way and with a different, creative, and interesting focus. Despite the company’s intermittent shortcomings, Xbox has made video games better and showed developers, publishers, and gamers that different games can exist, and there’s an audience out there for everything.